Date of Degree

2-2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor(s)

David Gordon

Subject Categories

Other American Studies | Political History | Political Theory | Politics and Social Change

Keywords

Tocqueville, Democracy, America, Associations, Welfare, Roosevelt, Government, Equality, Conditions, Opportunity

Abstract

In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), a French aristocrat, intellectual, and commentator on American society during the 1830’s, described the United States as a society marked by a general “equality of condition,” that is, by a lack of noticeable social and economic distinctions among the citizenry. For Tocqueville, this characteristic of democracy encouraged the formation of an informal political bloc he termed “the majority” - a group who would often elect demagogues to political offices, since the latter were best able to give voice to majority opinion. Furthermore, de Tocqueville believed that this group was not only capable of influencing, but also of controlling, the country. Tocqueville labelled this phenomenon the “tyranny of the majority.” In twentieth century America, these leveling tendencies and the tyranny of the majority have found expression in the growth of big government. In this regard, de Tocqueville was remarkably prescient.

This thesis addresses the present state of civil associations operating outside of government that are sometimes in opposition to majority opinion. It seeks to examine how contemporary civil associations attempt to preserve individual, dissenting voices from the “group think” that frequently finds expression in the actions of big government as typified by the programs initiated first by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and continued in the post-World War II American welfare state.

 
 

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